Posts Tagged 'community supported fisheries'

Thoughtful Thursday: Celebrate National Seafood Month Locally!

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Buy Local! This rallying cry has become more and more prominent over the past several years. The popularity of farmers markets, Community-Supported Agriculture and Farm-to-Table restaurants has grown exponentially in recent years. What’s not to love? The food is fresher, local economies are supported and the carbon footprint of transporting the products to stores is drastically reduced.

But, how often do we think of “buy local” when we think of seafood?

Similar to other food we feed our families, purchasing local seafood has its benefits. But when we talk about food taken from our waters, there are other considerations as well – primarily dealing with how well wild and farmed fish stocks are managed here in the United States. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, first enacted in 1976, provides the foundation for sustainable fisheries management in US waters.

This law established the science-based, cooperatively-managed system that employs routine stock assessments, catch limits, ecosystem-based management and accountability measures that eliminate overfishing and support sustainable populations.

Sustainable sturgeon nursery in North Carolina, which is producing local caviar!

Sustainable sturgeon nursery in North Carolina, which is producing local caviar!

Although US fisheries and aquaculture are tightly managed, more than 80 percent of the seafood we eat in the United States is imported. Foreign fisheries and aquaculture operations are under varying degrees of control. Many countries have put the financial gain of the fishing and aquaculture industries above the need to sustain healthy ecosystems and populations of fish. Efforts to improve international efforts to improve the management of our aquatic resources have already begun and are vital to supporting global sustainability, but there is still much work to be done.

Buying local seafood isn’t just about supporting U.S. fisheries and local fishermen, especially here in the Mid-Atlantic. This region enjoys the particular pleasure of being able to enjoy diverse and high quality seafood from our ocean, bays and rivers – and more recently from aquaculture facilities. But, even here, our seafood choices are highly affected by the global economy. More often than not, your “Maryland style” crab cake is made with imported crab meat.

As consumers, we should begin asking ourselves how our seafood purchasing decisions can make a difference. Here are some simple steps to get you started:

  • Buy Local -  Support local fishermen by asking if the seafood you purchase is from local sources. For example, in Maryland, you can identify restaurants using local Maryland blue crab meat by the True Blue certification logo on their menus.
  • Support Community-Supported Fisheries - Similar to the agriculture program, CSFs connect local fishermen and consumers, providing a steady source of locally caught or farmed seafood throughout the year.
  • Eat What’s in Season -  Just like vegetables, many seafood choices have a “season.” Purchasing seafood out of season generally means you are not supporting local options.

The health of our local fish is intricately tied to the health of our aquatic ecosystems, which is all connected to the health of the land surrounding these ecosystems. When we better understand  - and benefit from – the relationship between healthy waters and safe, plentiful seafood, we think more carefully about things we can do to help protect our waterways. Continued support for individual, community and civic efforts to clean up our waterways and watersheds is good for us and the fish!

Do you have a favorite local seafood recipe(s)? Share them with me in the comments section! 

Laura Bankey

Thoughtful Thursdays: Understanding Seafood Fraud

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We all know that the seafood choices we make directly affect the health of our oceans. How the fish is fished or farmed, where it is fished or farmed, if it is overfished, if other species are accidentally caught along with the desired species: all of these issues make a difference in the overall health of our marine ecosystems. Fortunately, there are tools that are available to help us make the right choices both in grocery stores and in seafood restaurants.

What happens, though, when make the effort to make the right choices, but we are sold mislabeled fish and we end up eating something completely different from what we ordered? This is one of the major aspects of Seafood Fraud, and it happens more often than we think. To raise awareness of this important conservation issue, seafood fraud was the chosen theme of last night’s Fresh Thoughts dinner at National Aquarium, Washington, DC.

According to a study done by our partners over at Oceana, close to 33 percent of the seafood purchased in the US is mislabeled.

This is not necessarily the fault of the restaurant or grocery store. Mislabeling can happen anywhere in the supply chain. A vast majority of the seafood we consume in the US is imported. There are several steps involved in getting a fish caught or farmed in a foreign county onto your dinner plate. Many folks are involved (fishermen, farmers, distributors, importers, exporters, etc) and there are limited resources available to inspect seafood imports. Further more, generally consumers have a limited ability to truly recognize what fish we’re eating. The situation is ripe for us to be taken advantage of.

This hurts us as consumers and as concerned citizens of our blue planet. Often, we are sold cheaper fish in place of premium species that we desire. This trend also hurts honest fishermen, distributors and chefs that are doing their best to make responsible business decisions while providing for their families. Just as importantly, though, is the harm this is causing to our marine ecosystems. Knowing the growing trend for choosing sustainable seafood, sustainable choices are often swapped with seafood that is “red-listed” to take advantage of the willingness to pay a little bit more for seafood that supports healthy oceans.

“The best way to combat seafood fraud is to require traceability – or the ability to track our fish from boat to plate.” said Beth Lowell, campaign director for Oceana, during last night’s event. We as consumers need to be assured of the source of our seafood. In the US, fishermen already provide much of this information upon landing. Unfortunately, there is no accountability in making sure it then is kept intact throughout the rest of the supply chain. And for the vast majority of the seafood that we consume that in imported, there are almost no checks and balances in place to protect the consumer.

So, what can we do? Here are some simple ways you can help combat this issue:

  • We have to let our elected officials know that we are aware of this issue and are concerned about how it is affecting our families, our economy and our oceans. Tell your Senator you want to help them fight seafood fraud!
  • Take steps to understand and decrease the number of steps it takes for the seafood that you consume to get from the boat to your plate. In Maryland, for example there is a True Blue program that identifies restaurants that are selling locally sourced crab meat. Many Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) are also developing across the country. These programs make a direct link to consumers and local fishermen, allowing us to purchase healthy, local seafood while supporting our local economies.
  • Spread the word to friends and family. Awareness is the first, and arguably most critical, step to harnessing real change!

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